Because conformity is not a value that either my husband or I hold dear, we expect and hope that our kids will do their own thing, even when it isn't "cool." Unfortunately, being a kid is hard, and bullying isn't always as obvious as television shows and movies make it out to be. In fact, there are more than a few types of low-level shaming your kid is probably experiencing at school that might not even be on your radar.
As a mom, it totally breaks my heart to I learn that my kids are being shamed, teased, or made to feel less than the perfect I know them to be. I feel so helpless, because there is really nothing I can do to prevent it. My kids have been subtly shamed at school for not conforming to gender roles, and sent home for not following bullsh*t dress codes. They have been excluded on the playground and in the lunch room by other kids. They've learned the hard way that peer pressure is real, especially when it comes to the clothes you wear and the activities you choose, but it also applies to things like religion and politics. And while I don't want my kids to feel even low-key shame, I also don't want them to be afraid to be themselves.
So, my partner and I find ways to support our kids as individuals, tell them they don't have to like things just because the other kids do, and try to build them up in advance. We can't prevent shaming, but we can let them know that they are awesome kids just the way they are, can help them pick themselves up after it happens, and can be on the lookout for the following situations where low-level shaming is probably occurring:
When Your Kid Is Different
As someone who was a "different" kid, I learned to hide behind a tough facade of black makeup, combat boots, and baggy clothes. I didn't want anyone to know I cared what they thought of me. Unfortunately, I've learned that you can't teach your kids to not care what other people think. They have to get there on their own. It really sucks.
When Your Kid Doesn't Like The "Right" Things
My family lives in a tiny ton where boys are expected to like football and ATVs, and girls are expected to like cheerleading and beauty pageants. Gag me.
When Your Kid Doesn't Conform To Gender Norms
In my humble opinion, gender roles are for the birds. I am so tired of my kids being told that they can't have long hair because they are boys (I am still mourning my son's long curls) or short hair because they are girls.
When Your Kid Is Being Excluded
Exclusion is subtle, but so damaging. We tell our kids that they don't have to be friends with everyone, and that's it's OK. But it is so hard to learn that other kids at school are excluding your kid, or worse, that your kid is doing the excluding. It's so hard to deal with bullying that basically amounts to not doing anything but freezing someone out. It's not like you or the school can force kids to play with each other, and even if you could, that might make things worse.
When The School Has Bullsh*t Dress Codes
As parents, my partner and I respect our kids as individuals, including their right to bodily autonomy and to choose their own hairstyle, clothes, and/or style without interference. We don't do gender roles or body shaming in our house, and we ignore sexist school dress codes.
So when my preschooler was sent home with a note for wearing a skirt without shorts, I gave the administration a piece of my mind. We shouldn't subtly or overtly shame our kids for what they are wearing, especially when it really doesn't have anything to do with their ability to learn.
When Your Family Isn't Religious
We are an atheist family living in a tiny town in the Midwest. I figured my kids would probably end up answering a few questions about why we didn't go to church, but I didn't realize how lonely it might be for them to feel left out at school during the holidays. I certainly didn't expect other kids to try to convert them to Christianity, or that my daughter would end up defending a Muslim classmate on the playground. Whoa.
When Your Kid Has "Weird" Parents
My partner and I are pretty "weird" parents by small-town, Midwest standards, and we are anything but conservative. While our kids used to think my many colored hair and tattoos were fun, they are starting to be embarrassed by the way I look. I try to recognize that it's inevitable that my kids will be ashamed of me, because at some point I stop becoming the "cool mom" and just become mom. I would totally rather it be because of my badass hair, though, than because I am stuffy, strict, or stereotypical.
When You're Kid Isn't Neurotypical
It's so unfair that teachers and other students alike treat my daughter poorly because her brain doesn't work the same way as other kids. My daughter is beautiful, smart, and kind. It breaks my heart to know she's hurting or feeling ashamed of something she literally can't control.
When Your Kid Doesn't Wear The "Right" Clothes
There's so much pressure on my kids to wear the "right" clothes. Every morning my partner and I have a battle with at least one kid, and it's almost always bout the clothes they want to wear and/or are "supposed" to wear. As much as I prize non-conformity and self-expression, I kind of wish they had school uniforms, only because it would make things so much easier.
I recently learned that my daughter was participating in beauty pageants on the playground at school, which were totally rigged so the popular kid would win. Ugh. And don't even get me started on school dress-up days. I honestly wish they would die in a fire.
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